Gary Winckler Interview


Gary is one of the greatest coaches I know. I have no doubt that he is the best sprint & hurdle coach in the world. Gary was one of the co-founders of the USA Track & Field Coaching education program. He is currently the Head women’s Track & Filed coach at University of Illinois. He and I have co-authored a book – Sport Specific Speed – The 3S System. He also has an excellent computer program called Training Design Pro to help design training programs He also designs and builds saddles.

What are most essential requirements for a successful conditioning program?
I believe that balance in the program is most essential for young athletes and with older athletes just as important but maybe not on an annual basis. I think with older more mature athletes you can take a year and specialize in areas needing further development.
What are the most common mistakes in conditioning?
Moving to specialized work too early.
Not performing exercises with good technique.
Ignoring the importance of mobility training
What is "functional training" from your point of view?
Functional training is that which addresses the needs of the athlete and the sport from the perspective of addressing "need to do" first and "nice to do" secondarily. Functional training should address areas that will make the athlete more functional.
What do you do to make your training more functional?
1. Assess the athlete's current state…..medical, nutritional, technical, speed, power, strength, endurance.
2. Plan a program to enhance the athlete's natural strengths and over time eliminate their weaknesses
3.evaluate the training process daily to adjust to the adaptation rate of the athlete
How important is specificity?
I think specificity is important from the perspective of technical and tactical competence. Sometimes the true value of general training and its contribution to functional performance and overall general health is overlooked.
What aspect of conditioning athletes is most difficult and how have you tried to address it?
For me the issue of patience on the part of the athlete. A good program needs not only careful planning and attention to detail but more importantly….time. Athletes want their results now and cannot look long term at how some training qualities need years to develop.
With the plethora of information available how can a coach determine what is best?
No coach can determine what is best unless they have the background in science and proven methodologies to adequately evaluate information and ideas. With understanding and experience one can objectively look at the latest and greatest sales pitches and determine if there are aspects within that have value.
Where do you stand on nature versus nurture?
Every athlete brings unique qualities to the training table. The most exciting challenge for the coach is to read those qualities and to help the athlete nurture them.
How much difference can training make?
Training not always is the reason for great performance. However, training can help the athlete insure that they will be able to perform at higher levels more consistently, with more health, and over a longer career.
What is the sure sign that a self proclaimed conditioning guru is not a good source of advice?
I always try to look at their motives. If every exercise demands a piece of equipment (that they are selling) or a new video or book then I usually step back and try to evaluate more closely the advice they are giving. This is not always true but in many cases can be the litmus test.
What do you differently with the female athlete in terms of conditioning?
I believe the female athlete needs consistent strength training throughout the training year. They do not maintain their strength gains as easily as men do and work must be prescribed to help them do this. Also in coaching females one has to understand that feelings are important and how we communicate to them will determine how effective the training will be. My experience is that the female athlete will work thru higher thresholds of pain and as a coach you have to be careful not to push them to the point of injury.
What has been the biggest innovation in training that you have seen during the course of your career and where is the biggest room for innovation in training athletes?
I think it is in how we put training programs together. I still see this as an area where better thinking can still be done and where we can become more innovative.
What's the biggest issue in training athletes today?
Getting them off the internet and not looking for short cuts. The human body does not adapt any faster than it did 30 years ago so why should be expect performance gains to be accomplished faster today. A challenge I face today that i did not face as a coach 10 years ago is helping athletes get the 'noise' out of their lives and learn to focus on the training process.
Who has been a role model in your career and why?
Joe vigil…..he is a man of science and compassion who I believe is the role model for all who wish to become great coaches.
What are the biggest professional challenges have you had to face?
Probably the biggest is coaching elite athletes who can compete at the international level. Not only is this challenging from a coaching perspective but also from a psychological perspective in that they know they are competing against others who use drugs to enhance performance. The challenge for me is convince my athletes that we too can achieve at the highest level without drugs. This challenge has been frustrating but on many occasions extremely rewarding when we succeed.
What do you enjoy most about coaching? Dislike?
I enjoy the planning of programs and the training of athletes on the field. I dislike the travel and of course dealing with the mediocre minds running the NCAA.
Did there come a time in your career where you were faced with a "fork in the road?" if so, do you ever revisit the decision you made or didn't make?
There were times when I wanted to create a fork in the road but my wife stopped me. I look at my strengths and realize that I probably could have had a more lucrative career in other fields but cannot regret the road I have taken. I have met many good people and made lifelong friends in the field of coaching.
What inspired you to get into coaching?
I grew up in high school and college settings where my coaches were not only my greatest teachers but good mentors as well. This attracted me to coaching.
Is failure ever valuable?
Yes failure is always valuable if you take the time to evaluate why it occurred and can take those lessons with you on your next journey. Failures are what make us stronger.
Which changes now taking place in your field that should be encouraged, and which resisted?
This is not a recent phenomena but i believe an important one. Coaches today are more and more dependent on others to condition and strengthen their athletes for them. I cannot understand how one can coach athletes and not be intimately involved in the conditioning side of their preparation. This should be discouraged.
More coaches are realizing the computer can be a valuable tool and I think this should be encouraged. From record keeping to testing there are some great tools now available to help coaches make better decisions.
Discuss entry

Vern Gambetta

Vern Gambetta

Director at Gambetta Sports Training Systems
Vern is the Director of Gambetta Sports Training Systems. He has been the a conditioning coach for several MLS teams as well as the conditioning consultant to the US Men's World Cup Soccer team. Vern is the former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets. He has lectured and conducted clinics in Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe and has authored six books and over one hundred articles related to coaching and sport performance in a variety of sports. He has a BA in teaching with a coaching minor and an MA in Education with an emphasis in physical education from Stanford University.
Vern Gambetta


Athletic Development Coach & Consultant. Founder of GAIN Network. Proud dad. Love to read everything.
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Vern Gambetta

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